Newsweek Writer Claims Income Inequality to Blame for Americans Failing Citizenship Test

Appearing on Tuesday's CBS Early Show, Newsweek senior writer Andrew Romano touted a survey in the magazine's latest issue showing that 38% of Americans failed the U.S. citizenship test and claimed to know the cause: "One of the big ones is income inequality in the United States. We're one of the most in-equal societies in the developed world."

Romano argued to co-host Erica Hill: "When people don't have a lot of money, there's a difficulty getting a good education, there's a lack of opportunity and a lack of knowledge. That's one of the reasons why we don't do as well as northern European countries, sometimes on these surveys." Hill observed: "So it's really a question of access." Romano replied: "It is. It's a big problem."

While everyone can agree that American citizens not knowing basic facts like who the Vice President of the United States is or who the U.S. fought during the Cold War are very troubling, blaming free-market capitalism for the failure is quite a leap.

In addition to going after income inequality, the Newsweek article also managed to squeeze in a defense of public broadcasting: "Another hitch is our reliance on market-driven programming rather than public broadcasting, which, according to the EJC [European Journal of Communication] study, 'devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas.'"

Apparently, British Masterpiece Theater on PBS can teach so much about American civics.

Here is a full transcript of the March 22 Early Show segment with Romano:

7:30AM ET

ERICA HILL: Before immigrants can become U.S. citizens, they have to pass an official test. Recently Newsweek magazine gave that same test to 1,000 Americans. Just 62% passed. 29% of respondents didn't know the name of the Vice President. It's Joe Biden, by the way. 73% had no idea what the U.S. was fighting against during the Cold War. Newsweek senior writer Andrew Romano joins us now, good to have you with us.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Put to the Test; Newsweek: 38% of Americans Failed Citizenship Test]

That one was one that surprised me, that people didn't know what the U.S. was fighting against during the Cold War. The answer is communism.

ANDREW ROMANO: Right.

HILL: Did that surprise you as an answer?

ROMANO: It was very surprising. I mean, most people who were responding to the survey were probably alive during the Cold War, before the fall of communism, of communist Russia. And so it was very surprising that they didn't know that.

HILL: It can be a tough test. A lot of the stuff you learn in grade school or even in highschool maybe you forget. But the Vice President, someone who's out there in the news a lot, that many people who didn't know his name. How did that sit with you guys? Is that what you expected?

ROMANO: It's not what I expected. It's kind of amazing, you know, current events can be kind of difficult to keep track of, but he is the second highest ranking elected official in the government. And so the fact that 29% of voters didn't know that – what his name was is amazing.

HILL: I just want to tick off a few of the other ones that surprised some of the folks here at the Early Show. Martin Luther King, someone who, too, you get a day off for, so, you know, this is another name that's out there. 70 – 23% rather – did not know what Martin Luther King did. Of course fought for civil rights. Also, a third didn't know when the Declaration of Independence was adopted. That would be July 4th, 1776.

ROMANO: Right. Exactly correct. And the fact that we get days off for both of those things is sort of surprising that people are not sure what it is.


HILL: What do you equate this to? This – I don't know if it's a lack of knowledge – are we just not remembering things? But what do you, when you look at these results, is there one thing that you can point to that says here's why we're not doing so well on this test?

ROMANO: Yeah, there are a couple reasons when you talk to experts. One of the big ones is income inequality in the United States. We're one of the most in-equal societies in the developed world. And when people don't have a lot of money, there's a difficulty getting a good education, there's a lack of opportunity and a lack of knowledge. That's one of the reasons why we don't do as well as northern European countries, sometimes on these surveys.

HILL: So it's really a question of access.

ROMANO: It is. It's a big problem. There's also – we also have a very complicated system of government, much more complicated than some of these European countries. You have elections constantly for every imaginable office, you've got overlapping federal and state bureaucracies and people kind of give up, they can't their head around the whole thing.

HILL: You point out in your article this isn't really a problem of – or an issue, rather, of stupidity, it's more an issue of ignorance.

ROMANO: That's exactly correct. There's a thing called deliberative polling that a professor at Stanford does. And he gets people together in the room, polls them blind on a big issue, they have their opinions, they have their differences, but then they're confronted with the facts and they're forced to come up with a policy response to it. And almost every time they come up with a rational reasonable policy response. So again, it's not stupidity, it's just a lack of knowledge about some of the facts on these issues.

HILL: Well this could be a good reason for us to maybe read up a little bit more.

ROMANO: Yeah.

HILL: It's in the current issue of Newsweek. Andrew, thanks.

ROMANO: Thank you.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC